AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Maurice Cheeks is ready for a new challenge, undaunted by the fact that the Detroit Pistons have been a revolving door for coaches lately.
Cheeks is the franchise’s fourth coach in six seasons, so is he concerned about a job where so many others have failed?
“If we thought like that, nobody would be coaching,” Cheeks said.
Cheeks was introduced Thursday, nearly two months after Lawrence Frank was fired. The coaching search took a while because the Pistons need this decision to work out. Detroit went 54-94 in two seasons under Frank amid sagging attendance. The previous two seasons under John Kuester weren’t any better.
The Pistons haven’t made the playoffs since being swept in the first round in 2009 — in Michael Curry’s only season at the helm. Cheeks is Detroit’s ninth coach since the 1999-2000 season.
“We wanted to make sure we took our time and went through as many possible scenarios as we’ve come across,” team president Joe Dumars said. “We feel like we got the right guy for what we’re trying to do.”
This is the third head coaching stop for Cheeks. He went 284-286 with the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers. Cheeks’ coaching tenure in Portland is perhaps best remembered for a heartwarming moment when he rushed to the rescue of a 13-year-old girl who forgot the words to the national anthem before a game. But he’s never been past the first round of the playoffs.
“Everything you go through is a learning experience,” Cheeks said. “I'm here to make my own way, put my own stamp on this team. It has nothing to do with Philadelphia or Portland.”
Detroit drafted Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, and Andre Drummond in the lottery the last three years, and the Pistons have the No. 8 pick this year. They’ve been able to build a nucleus of young players with potential, but Detroit has lacked a legitimate star who could lift the team into the postseason and help draw fans.
This offseason is an important one for Dumars after the team cleared salary cap space by trading veterans Ben Gordon and Tayshaun Prince in the last year.
“This team has a lot of young talent,” Cheeks said. “You go across the board, and you’ve got players that just have to be honed.”
Jonas Jerebko, a 26-year-old forward whose playing time dipped last season, was at the news conference.
“He’s going to demand respect, and that’s something we need,” Jerebko said. “I feel like he’s a great fit for our young team.”
Jerebko said he was shooting around with a couple other players earlier Thursday when Cheeks tried to set the tone for the future.
“I had a couple flip-flops on or something — you know, messing around,” Jerebko said. “He told us: ‘When you’re in there, you’ve got to put in work.’ ... That’s what you want as a player — you want somebody to tell you what to do. I won’t be wearing my flip-flops out there.”
Cheeks spent the past four seasons as an Oklahoma City Thunder assistant. The Chicago native was a four-time all-star over 15 seasons in the NBA, helping the Sixers win a championship in 1983.
Next season is the 10-year anniversary of Detroit’s championship in 2004. Since then, the team has parted ways with the stars from that team, and the Pistons also have a fairly new owner. Tom Gores took over the franchise two years ago.
Hall of Famer Phil Jackson helped with Detroit’s coaching search as a consultant, but Dumars said there was “a 100 percent consensus” to hire Cheeks.
Dumars is the team’s most obvious link to its more successful past, and he acknowledges that no matter how many changes the team makes, fans will take a wait-and-see approach until the Pistons start winning again.
“I think people are always skeptical until you prove yourself,” Dumars said. “I’m not here to try and prove to people in the press conference that everything is perfect. What I am saying, though, is we’re not going to stop working until we get it right. I think that’s all you can do in this position.”